Basketball is always big in Kentucky this time of year ... even if the ‘Cats aren’t playing in the NCAA Tournament.
No, the maddest game this March in Somerset will be between the Somerset Police Department and the Somerset Fire Department, this Friday at the Somerset High School Gym (a.k.a. the “Briar Patch”).
And while the media rights dollars won’t be flowing with multi-channel broadcast deals, as with that other big hoops event this month, all the money generated by this game will go to a very good cause.
The “Hoops for Haylee” benefit game is aimed at helping one local family purchase a diabetic service dog for their daughter.
Eight-year-old Haylee Whitis of Somerset has Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. Commonly found in children and younger adults, the condition renders the body unable to produce insulin, a hormone the body needs to convert food into energy, moving glucose into one’s cells. Lack of insulin causes glucose to stay in the blood, which can cause damage to the body and organs. Type 1 diabetes causes one’s immune system to attack the insulin-producing beta cells.
Because Haylee has experienced sudden seizures which can attack at any time, her family has launched an effort to buy a service dog, which is trained to help recognize when Haylee is at risk and provide an alert.
The problem is, diabetic alert dogs don’t come cheaply. Haylee’s mother Dana Whitis is expecting it to cost about $25,000, and the process will take time. Dana said the family has “already begun our journey” by placing the initial deposit with Virginia company Warren Retrievers, and are likely to get the dog in another several months, but just as budgets are tight for families all over America, the Whitis household is no different and any help the community can offer in getting the dog for Haylee would be a godsend.
The family has thus been trying to raise funds in various ways for the expense — they currently have about $10,000, under half of what they need.
As usual, however, the police came to the rescue. Specifically Sgt. Greg Martin of the Somerset Police Department.
Every year around this time, the police department plays a charity basketball game, typically against a local high school team to raise money for that school. This year, however, Martin had the idea to do something different.
“I know Dana (a Somerset Water employee) from working here at the City,” said Martin. “Her older daughter used to go to school with my son. I thought a lot about it, to try to figure something out to raise money.”
Playing another city agency, however, seemed like a “neat” idea to Martin: “Something where we could get a tradition going and have a bit of a fun rivalry.”
Martin spoke to Coby Dykes of the fire department, and “he was all excited about it” as well.
“It feels great,” said Martin of being about to help out Haylee Whitis. “Most of us like to be involved in things and part of the community — not just me, but the whole department. It’s even better when it’s someone you know personally. (The Whitis’ are) a good family.
Admission to the game is $5. Hoops fans will also have the chance to win a unique piece of UK basketball memorabilia — a basketball signed by current Kentucky coach John Calipari. Raffle tickets are one for $5 or three for $10.
Additionally, t-shirts and bracelets promoting Haylee’s cause will be on sale for $10 and $2, respectively. All proceeds go toward the “Benefit for Haylee Whitis” fund.
Additionally, at halftime, girls from Pulaski Elementary will participate in their own brief basketball game.
Martin thanked Major Doug Nelson of SPD for supporting the game, and Mayor Eddie Girdler as well, as the mayor provided a special trophy that could be used as a “traveling trophy” should this game between the police and fire departments become an annual event.
Martin didn’t play basketball in high school, but has watched plenty of Calipari’s teams and others over the years.
“I’m just a lifelong UK fan,” he said. “I think I know a lot about basketball. We’ve got a lot of guys who play in rec leagues.”
He added, laughing, “Most of us are ready to go, even if we’re not in the best shape. It’s all in fun, but everyone knows it’s for a good cause.”
Dana Whitis said that the local community has been “awesome” in support of the drive to get young Haylee the help she so dearly needs.
“It’s a huge blessing,” she said. “Words cannot describe how thankful I am.”